"JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: A Public Life, A Private Life" by Paul C. Nagel

"JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: A Public Life, A Private Life"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A groundbreaking work on one of America's undeservedly neglected great figures that draws on John Quincy Adams's voluminous diaries. The son of President John Adams, ""JQA"" (as he often signed himself) seemed born to a life of brilliant public service: He served as secretary to the US envoy to Russia in 1781 at the age of 14 and acted as an assistant to the commission that negotiated the peace that ended the American Revolution. He later served as ambassador to Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain, as a US senator, as secretary of state under President Monroe, and as president (1825-29). Nagel acknowledges that JQA's was a ""failed presidency,"" the result of dogged charges of a ""corrupt bargain"": Having lost the popular poll, he won the presidency due to the influence of Speaker Henry Clay, who was then offered the office of secretary of state. JQA's greatest public service came during his long tenure (1831-48) in the House of Representatives after his presidency. At the risk of censure for misconduct and in violation of the ""gag rule"" against discussing antislavery laws in the House, he attempted to present a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery and then hundreds of antislavery petitions. He also argued the Amistad case before the Supreme Court, which won freedom for slaves who had taken over a slave ship. Nagel (Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family, 1983) also acknowledges that JQA's ""iron mask,"" his cold and aloof demeanor, contributed to his unpopularity. But the author attributes this to a recurring depression and contends that JQA was an engaging and affectionate man who wrote well-received poetry, loved scholarship, enjoyed rambling around his home in Quincy, Mass., and was a devoted husband and father. A finely detailed portrait of a wrongly neglected American statesman who was not a great president, but who was a great hero.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1997
ISBN: 0674479408
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Knopf